Will spinal stimulation one day allow the paralyzed to walk?

Spinal cord stimulation research looks for paralysis solution

An injury to your spinal cord is one of the most serious types of damage your body can suffer. These injuries can lead to catastrophic damage to the body, including paraplegia and quadriplegia. A wide range of activities can cause these injuries, from diving or skiing to automobile crashes and workplace accidents.

While on the job, you can suffer back injuries in traumatic incidents that can leave you with pinched nerves, crushed vertebrae and in the worst cases, a severed spinal cord. After such an accident, you may never be able to return to your previous work, and may have to adapt to a very different life, perhaps with the help of a motorized wheelchair.

While you may qualify for worker's compensation benefits if you worked for a covered employer, your needs will be great and your claims may be complex. Your compensation will need to cover your medical needs for life-long healthcare and income replacement.

The devastating nature of spinal cord injuries has led to much research in the medical community, in an effort to develop surgeries, treatments and procedures that could return some of the abilities lost due to the spinal cord damage.

Intraspinal microstimulation

A study is being set up at Vanderbilt University as part of that effort, where the doctor will study the effect of intraspinal microstimulation technology in helping to restore the ability move body parts below the severed section of the spinal cord.

The ultimate goal of the study is to work towards returning the ability to walk to the patients with these injuries. Microstimulation technology is seen as having potential to help those suffering from paralysis.

According to the doctor leading the study, this microstimulation will be designed to work with what are known as central pattern generators, which are in the spinal column and help create the smooth movements needed for activities like walking.

Research has shown these generators in animals, and this study hopes to confirm their presence in humans. The doctor noted that stimulation of the nerves of the spinal cord should result in more efficient and less fatiguing muscle control than occurs with direct stimulation of the muscles.

Technique has been used for pain control

A similar type of stimulation of the spinal cord has been used for pain control, where a weak electronic pulse is delivered to the spinal cord in an attempt to control chronic pain. This treatment has varying degrees of success with patients, seemingly helping those with failed back surgery or peripheral nerve pain, but the research has been limited and the overall effectiveness the treatment requires more study.

For those disabled with back and spinal cord injuries, pain relief and the return of the ability to use paralyzed limbs are both much longed for goals. This research will not directly lead to improving the ability to walk for the study's subjects, but it is hoped will lead to the development of new devices that in the future will allow those paralyzed to regain the ability to control their limbs.